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Big registrar dumps .uk — a glimpse of Christmas future?

Kevin Murphy, December 30, 2014, 14:40:56 (UTC), Domain Registrars

German registrar Cronon, which retails domains under the Strato brand, has stopped carrying .uk domains due to what it says are onerous Whois validation rules.

In a blog post, company spokesperson Christina Witt said that over one third of all .uk sales the registrar has been making are failing Nominet’s registry-end validation checks, which she said are “buggy”.

With the introduction of direct second-level registration under .uk, Nominet introduced a new requirement that all new domains must have a UK address in the Whois for legal service, even if the registrant is based overseas.

According to its web site, Nominet checks registrant addresses against the Royal Mail Postcode Address file, which contains over 29 million UK addresses, and does a confidence-based match.

If attempts to match the supplied address with a UK address in this file prove fruitless, and after outreach to the registrant, Nominet suspends the domain 30 days after registration and eventually deletes it.

It’s this policy of terminating domains that has caused Strato to despair and stop accepting new .uk registrations.

“Databases of street directories or company registers are often inaccurate and out of date,” Witt wrote (translated from the original German). “The result: addresses that are not wrong, in fact, are be found to be invalid.”

Nominet is throwing back over a third of all .uk names registered via Strato, according to the blog post, creating a customer support nightmare.

Its affected registrants are also confused about the verification emails they receive from Nominet, a foreign company of which they have often never heard, Witt wrote.

I don’t know how many .uk names the registrar has under management, but it’s reasonably large in the gTLD space, with roughly 650,000 domains under management at the last count.

If Strato’s claim that Nominet is rejecting a third of valid addresses (and how Strato could know they’re valid is open to question), that’s quite a scary statistic.

Nominet seems to be using an address database, from the Royal Mail, which is about as close to definitive as it gets. And it’s only verifying addresses from a single country.

I shudder to imagine what the false negative rate would be like for a gTLD registrar compelled to validate addresses across 200-odd countries and territories.

The latest version of the ICANN Registrar Accreditation Agreement requires registrars to partially validate addresses, such as checking whether the street and postal code exist in the given city, but there’s no requirement for domains to be suspended if these checks fail.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Michele Neylon of the Registrars Stakeholder Group for the reminder that this RAA requirement hasn’t actually come into force yet, and won’t until the RrSG and ICANN come to terms on its technical and commercial feasibility.]

Where the 2013 RAA does require suspension is when the registrant fails to verify their email address (or, less commonly, phone number), which as we’ve seen over the last year leads to hundreds of thousands of names being yanked for no good reason.

If Strato’s story about .uk is correct and its experience shared by other registrars, I expect that will become and important data point the next time law enforcement or other interests push for even stricter Whois rules in the ICANN world.

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Comments (5)

  1. For a .uk domain name, you only need a “service address” in the UK. While that address obviously needs to be valid, it’s the Registrant address that is causing the verification-nightmare. The registrant can have an address outside of the UK. And from our experience, the automated verification carried out by Nominet seems to fail for most (all?) of the non-UK addresses.
    So for a registrar within the UK, having mostly UK clients, this isn’t a big thing but for registrars with many clients with an address outside of the UK, this means lots of extra work.

    We have however become “Accredited Channel Partner” (Cronon is only “Channel Partner”). Accredited Channel Partner means we need to carry out the verification ourselves. This still is lots of work, but it also gives us the power to update owner information without any hassle…

  2. anony (eroyalmail) says:

    This .uk process is similar to .asia. where local presence in registration process.

    .asia local presence CED requirement is not like .nyc where you need a physical presence which is strange because you have a city having a native country attitude.

    You are thus able to register .asia via a proxy service usually provided by the registrar, for example, Encirca.

    There are other variations in local presence for example the technical contact though not other contacts.

    Cronon / Strato have to provide a local presence / proxy address service if they want to sell .uk, an extra fee is sometimes charged to the customer.

  3. Jen says:

    Use a UK-based registrar that offers a UK proxy address, such as DomainMonster, where the proxy address is automatic and free.

    Problem solved.

    • We also ofer a UK proxy address, but this is only used as “service address”. The owner can have an address outside of the UK, I would therefore advice to make sure you are indeed the owner of your .uk domain name and not your registrar.

      Also keep in mind that, if your registrar isn’t a “Accredited Channel Partner” (and most aren’t), then changing the owner from their information to yours (for example if you want to transfer your domain name elsehwere), will cost you money.

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